Ultimate Guide to La Liga Weekend: Barca's Derby and Gareth Bale Looking for 20

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistMay 6, 2016

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06:  Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona (L) argues with RCD Espanyol players during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 first leg match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

The penultimate weekend of La Liga brings a couple of potentially fiery clashes with it, especially at the top end of the table where a win is everything, and a draw or defeat will essentially have season-ending consequences.

For Barcelona, there's an added incentive to winning their fixture, as they face Espanyol in the Catalan derby.

While winning the game is always a high point in isolation, it would also leave Luis Enrique's men top of the table with just one game to go—against relegation-threatened Granada.

Despite the poor run of form in April, this game is arguably the last one in Barcelona's path that could threaten their grip on the Spanish league title.

One more push and good performance, and Andres Iniesta will in all probability be lifting the trophy to retain La Liga.

Even so, Atletico and Real Madrid cannot be ignored or discounted. Both have played a full part in keeping the title race alive, and both must be ruing the odd silly point or two dropped along the way in 2016.

Unlike the past couple of weekends, there will be no leapfrogging to the top for a few short hours this time; all games will be played simultaneously in La Liga, leaving the pressure on for each of the three clubs to focus on their own result and not worry about how others are faring, something which is easier said than done at times.

It's perhaps worth noting that the last team to beat any of the troika aiming for the title was Valencia, winners against Barcelona four matches ago, and Los Che face Real Madrid this weekend.

Can they cause another upset and knock the title race down to two? Will Espanyol unexpectedly prevail in the derby, or will Atleti be shocked by an already-relegated Levante, who are now playing without fear or pressure?

No other top league around Europe comes close to matching how fiercely contested the title is in Spain this season.

There's every chance that Barcelona, Atleti and Real all finish their last five games in perfect fashion, true title-winning form from each of them...but only the Camp Nou side would be rewarded in that case.

One more stepperhaps the hardest of their final five fixturesand the Catalan side will be almost there.

 

Jornada 37 (all kick-offs at 4 p.m. BST/11 a.m. ET)

Sunday

Real Sociedad vs. Rayo Vallecano

Real Madrid vs. Valencia

Villarreal vs. Deportivo La Coruna

Getafe vs. Sporting Gijon

Eibar vs. Real Betis

Barcelona vs. Espanyol

Sevilla vs. Granada

Las Palmas vs. Athletic Club Bilbao

Celta Vigo vs. Malaga

Levante vs. Atletico Madrid

 

What to Watch out for this Weekend

Part 1: Relegation Six-Pointer

Levante have gone, relegated to La Segunda and rock bottom after a 3-1 defeat to Malaga on Monday night. Two spots remain, though, and it'll be a straight battle between four sides to stay up: Getafe, Sporting de Gijon, Rayo Vallecano and Granada.

Despite being one point clear of the other three, Granada look in most trouble given they face Sevilla away and Barcelona at home in their final two games.

Rayo's saving grace may come in the final gameweek as they host the 20th-placed club, but before that, there's another game of huge importance: Getafe vs. Sporting, with the winner quite possibly sealing another season in the top flight.

Getafe have won, drawn and lost six of each on home soil, taking seven points from the last nine to give themselves hope. This is the match which counts for the most, though, with the added bonus of having beaten Sporting away from home—which could be of huge importance if this fixture finishes in a draw, thanks to La Liga's head-to-head ruling.

One win this week might be enough to keep any of the four teams up, but a win over a direct rival? That also goes a long way to ensuring one of the two remaining relegation spots are filled.

 

Part 2: La Liga Stat Watch

Real Madrid's Welsh forward Gareth Bale gestures at the end of the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg football match Real Madrid CF vs Manchester City FC at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, on May 4, 2016. / AFP / PAUL ELLIS        (Photo
PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

 

  • Each of the bottom four have won at least one point per game over the last four matches, a better average rate than their season haul overall
  • Real Madrid have won 10 in a row, the best in La Liga at present. The best win streak this season came from Barcelona, winning 12 in succession
  • Gareth Bale needs one more strike to reach the 20-goal milestone for the season
  • Granada's Ruben Perez has been booked 16 times, more than any other player
  • The only teams not to have benefitted from an own goal this season are Celta, Betis and Rayo
  • Real Madrid have scored seven goals via counter-attacks and 18 via set pieces, both league highs
  • Espanyol, in 14th, could still feasibly be relegated—or finish as high as eighth place
  • Barcelona have the highest average attendance, 77,700, with Eibar's 5,200 being the lowest
  • In terms of capacity filled, Eibar and Atletico Madrid are highest on 80 per cent, while Getafe are lowest on 40 per cent for the season

 

Certain stats via Statto.com and Whoscored.com; attendance figures via Soccerway.co.uk

 

Part 3: Player to Watch: Diego Alves, VAL

VALENCIA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 13:  Diego Alves of Valencia reacts during the La Liga match between Valencia CF and RCD Espanyol at Estadi de Mestalla on February 13, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

The best goalkeeper in La Liga last season, Diego Alves ended the 2014-15 campaign on a terrible note by rupturing his ACL in the final week.

Recuperated and rehabilitated, he has won back his No. 1 spot for Valencia under Pako Ayestaran and has shown signs of why he was so good last year: an incredible set of reflexes, his bravery and a capacity to second-guess forwards in one-on-one situations.

That said, he also has a mistake or two in his game—moments where concentration can be lacking, a simple ball can be spilled or his distribution goes wayward, with dramatic consequences.

Alves will be the man tasked with keeping Real Madrid at bay, likely with a full set of forwards available to them and all guns blazing to complete an unlikely double.

Real need both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid to slip up, but that simply means they can play with freedom and a lack of pressure, especially as they will be buoyed by their midweek success in Europe.

The Brazilian goalkeeper is set to be extremely busy, but will he frustrate Real and rule them out of the title race?

 

Game of the Weekend: Barcelona vs. Espanyol

Quite aside from being the last realistic remaining game where Barcelona might pass up the chance to retain their Liga title, we have already seen a couple of particularly tasty derbies this season, which makes this fixture extremely watchable.

Pape Diop memorably suggested after the Copa del Rey encounter that the "Barcelona players would have gone off on stretchers" had Espanyol wanted it to be a bloodbath, but there were red cards, flashpoints aplenty and suspensions which ensued nonetheless—despite the absence of stretchers.

Make no mistake: Although Espanyol still technically aren't safe, their focus will be on ensuring their proximity-based rivals do not enjoy an easy passage toward winning La Liga at the weekend, giving everything to force Barca intro dropping points at the Camp Nou.

Meanwhile, Barcelona have no reason to hold anything back in their pursuit of silverware. It should be a cracker.

 

Predictions and Tips

  • Home wins for Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, Villarreal, Sevilla, Celta
  • Away wins for Sporting, Atletico Madrid
  • Over 2.5 goals in RMA-VAL, SEV-GRA, CEL-MGA